Thursday, October 21, 2010
FORGOTTEN GEM? "Wing and a Prayer"
"A Wing and Prayer" was a propaganda picture released in 1944 that tells the fictional story of a bomber squadron on an aircraft carrier. The movie tries to explain to the wartime audience why the U.S. Navy "appeared" to be on the defensive after Pearl Harbor. It turns out that it was part of a shrewd plan to lure the Japanese into a decisive defeat! This must have worked pretty well considering the actual circumstances leading to the Battle of Midway would have still been secret. Today, the plot comes off as silly.
The plan is for "Carrier X" to conduct raids throughout the Solomon Islands area to fool the Japanese as to how many carriers we have and when confronted to retreat in order to convince the Japanese that we do not want to fight. The new bomber squadron led by Lt. Commander Moulton (Dana Andrews) has trouble with the order to behave "cowardly" in contact with enemy Zeros and has a tense relationship with the hard-nosed Flight Commander Harper (Don Ameche). Harper insists they follow orders and they, being hot shot pilots, chafe at the constraints. Somewhat surprisingly, the movie sides with Harper's insistence that the the good of the fleet supersedes the good of the individual air crews. It pulls its punches a bit when Harper refuses to turn on lights to guide in an out-of-fuel bomber. Not to worry, the crew is picked up by a destroyer.
The strategy works and it leads to the Battle of Midway. The Americans attack a fake looking fleet of models. (For some reason, there are only three carriers instead of four.) They drop torpedoes on the decks of the carriers! (Earlier in the film they practiced as dive bombers.) We follow the battle by way of air chatter picked up by the carrier communications. It sounds like you are listening to an old-time radio serial. Very phony-sounding.
Cliche alert #1: One of the pilots has a picture of his wife that he moons over each night before he falls asleep. Guess what happens to him? Cliche alert #2: A pilot who had crashed after coming back too soon from battle fatigue spots a torpedo heading for the carrier. Guess how he finds redemption?
The movie was originally intended to be the factual story of Ensign Gay and Torpedo 8 in the Battle of Midway. I guess Hollywood decided a movie where all the pilots get shot down without any torpedo hits to show for it would not be good for home front morale. The finished screenplay took care of that problem of accuracy.
This movie was actually nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. It must have seemed unpatriotic to point out how ridiculous the plot is. This "gem" should remain forgotten.